Asian Games: Jakarta's air still unfit for Asiad athletes with 2018 Games on the horizon

Haze shrouds the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on July 27, 2017.
Haze shrouds the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on July 27, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

INDONESIA (THE JAKARTA POST) -In less than a year, Jakarta will host the Asian Games, but amid its preparations, the world's third-most polluted city has yet to do anything to improve its air quality.

Athletes can only perform at their best when they compete in good-level air quality, which is indicated by a global air pollution index of 0 to 50.

Most of the time, Jakarta's air quality is within the 51 to 100, or modest, range, which may cause breathing discomfort for sensitive people, according to the Committee for the Phasing Out of Leaded Fuel (KPBB)

"If next year the athletes have to compete in these circumstances (poor air quality), it will be a big problem," said KPBB chief Ahmad Safrudin.

Of the 366 days in 2016, Jakarta had 250 days when its air quality was at the moderate level, according to KPBB's data.

It had 76 and 31 days with good and unhealthy air quality, respectively. Because of the city's substandard air quality, 58.3 percent of Jakarta's 9.6 million residents suffer from various respiratory diseases like asthma and pneumonia, the data also revealed.

Airvisual, a real-time air quality index application, placed Jakarta third out of the most polluted cities in the world after Beijing and Dhaka in September. In mid-August, Jakarta topped the list, followed by Ankara and Lahore.

Nevertheless, Ahmad said Jakarta's air could be improved ahead of the quadrennial multi-sport event, which will be held from Aug 18 to Sept. 2 next year, if the city's officials implemented extensive and comprehensive policies targeted at reducing pollution-causing activities.

One of these policies would be to ensure all vehicles in the capital underwent emissions tests through regular street checks.

"The city administration, in cooperation with the Jakarta Police, must regularly conduct vehicle-emissions checks on the streets. Those with vehicles that have not undergone emission tests must be ticketed," said Ahmad.

The administration, moreover, must stick to its commitment to use gas fuel to power the city's public transportation fleets, including Transjakarta buses - some of which still use diesel fuel.

"Our bylaw says that all public transportation must use gas fuel but it has not been fully implemented yet. The Jakarta administration must be assertive if it wants to host the Asian Games (properly)," said Ahmad, referring to Article 20 Paragraph 1 of Jakarta's bylaw No. 2/2015 on Air Pollution Control.

Air pollution was one of China's biggest headaches when it held the Beijing 2008 Olympics, as the city's air quality was measured at 88, according to figures from the China Environmental Monitoring Center, prior to the games.

Beijing responded by implementing mass-scale, aggressive measures to bring back its blue skies during the games; from banning vehicles based on license plate numbers, halting infrastructure projects, to temporarily closing down dozens of factories.

"Air quality heavily impacts the performance of athletes in outdoor sports, like the marathon and long-distance running," said Hario Tilarso, a doctor in Indonesia's Satlak Prima sports task force.

"Polluted air can disturb their larynx function and can make those with allergies suffer from coughs or even asthma."

Indonesian endurance runner Agus Prayogo echoed Hario's thoughts, saying "We, endurance runners, depend on our lung function. If the air quality level is not good, our lungs will have to work harder and that can harm our performance."

He then recalled his personal record of two hour and 23 minutes recorded at the 2015 Tokyo Marathon - a faster time than he recorded at the 2015 Jakarta Marathon, where he finished in two hour and 30 minutes

"Aside from intensive training, I found that Tokyo's air quality helped me record a faster time," he said.

In an attempt to reduce emissions, the Jakarta Environmental Agency plans to conduct mass vehicle-emissions test in November, said the agency's deputy head, Ali Maulana.

An event to be held in Senayan, South Jakarta, and Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, will allow vehicle owners to check their vehicles' emissions for free.

"These emissions tests are actually not related to our preparation for the Asian Games, but the impacts will certainly benefit the Games," he said, adding that the test results would be recorded within the city's computer database.

Moreover, he added, officials had gradually been phasing out high-emission modes of public transportation, like the three-wheeled bemo, in favour of environmentally-friendly vehicles run on electric power or gas fuel.